Label of the Month: Shall Not Fade
Label of the Month: Shall Not FadeJanuary 11, 2021
“My mum’s an English teacher and is very, very interested in Shakespeare,” Shall Not Fade label founder Kieran Williams says. Though it might not be obvious, Williams’ label — which has undeniably become a trendsetting force in the underground since launching five years ago — shares its namesake with a stanza taken from one of William Shakespeare’s best-known sonnets, Sonnet 18, written in the 1590s.
But thy eternal summer shall not fade,
Nor lose possession of that fair thou ow’st;
Nor shall death brag thou wander’st in his shade,
When in eternal lines to time thou grow’st
“We used to go to Shakespeare’s theatre in Stratford all the time, and it was a big part of my upbringing. When it came time to name the label, I was flipping through my Mom’s books, that line just stuck out to me, and I was like, ‘there it is.’ I think it’s quite powerful.”
With hundreds of releases under its belt and numerous sub-labels in the wings, the sound of Shall Not Fade (SNF) is a tempest of house, techno, bass, breaks, and more. In retelling the label’s story however, Williams can’t help but chuckle when remembering how the label was first perceived, especially online. “We spent the first four years running the label out of the garage,” Williams says. “Many people thought it was this massive label when, in reality, it was just one friend and me running all the operations out of this space.”
It’s late December, and Williams is talking from his brand-new office space in Bristol. As he appears on the screen with a smile and overworked eyes, his girlfriend Bailey can be seen in the background, organizing stacks of records and generally getting the place in order. “It’s been a mad end to the year,” Williams says. “We’ve got tons of new releases coming out, but overall, it’s all been really positive.” After living in London for about a year, Williams starts with how good it feels to be back with a permanent base in his hometown.
“I’ve lived in Bristol pretty much my whole life,” Williams says. “Coming back has really given me clear headspace and has set the bar for next year. Community-wise, it’s like everybody’s out to help each other here, which I think is extremely important, especially during these times and with everything that’s going on in the world. You want a good scene around you. A lot of my drive and overall interest in music has come from being in Bristol, really.”
During his formative years, Williams’ taste shifted from playing in bands to more bass-driven music, after attending dubstep pioneer Pinch‘s weekly Subloaded events. He studied music production at his sixth form college, started DJing under the KGW moniker, and eventually graduated with a degree in event management. After graduating in 2016, he landed a gig working for Bristol’s most iconic music venue, Motion — a vast warehouse space set in an industrial area of the city that’s been regularly recognized as one of the best clubs in the world.
“Growing up in Bristol, if you’re interested in that kind of music, it’s really the biggest and most sought after club that you could work at,” Williams says. “It was such a great thing to be taken under their wing, and obviously, they were really supportive of the label in helping me put on the events that definitely cemented Shall Not Fade as a Bristol brand. Even in the early stages, many people who followed the label would come over from other countries in Europe just to attend these parties.”
The label’s first physical release came from Jordan Alexander, AKA Mall Grab, who was then a little-known player. The relationship between the Bristolian Williams and the Australian producer/DJ came naturally, through online chats and mutual love for smoked-out, crunchy house music. Before long, Williams was flying Alexander out to the UK for his first of many gigs at Motion in Bristol.
“We also had DJ Boring out for his first Bristol gig,” Williams explains. “Building the Shall Not Fade family really happened through the events as much as it did through the music. I think that’s why the parties were so good in that sense, it was just friends doing a party, but they were all coming from different places. I think that’s pretty much the basis of the label, and even now, when I look at our artists that release various labels, they’re all still a part of each other’s careers.”
Shall Not Fade’s early artist roster featured acts like LK, Adryiano, TRP, and Lake Haze, who played an essential role in building the “strange family” that is “built on trust,” as Williams puts it. “If somebody who I’ve released with before or who I’m friends with sends me some music, and they’re like, ‘I think you’ll really like this,’ most of the time I do like it, and it ends up getting released.” This snowball effect of friends supporting friends would introduce acts like Baltra, Kettama, Big Miz, Ejeca, Harrison BDP, Subjoi, Anthony Fade, and dozens upon dozens of other talented producers from around the world into the Shall Not Fade fold.
Soon a mishmash of languid, jazzy, percussive, warm expanded the label’s sonic signature, while the internet’s unquenchable thirst for lo-fi house called for a new sub-label, Lost Palms. Though the imprint would both cater to the sound, and expand beyond it. “I’ve always seen Shall Not Fade as being a mixed genre label, and I’ve always wanted to keep it that way,” Williams says. “The best way to characterize Lost Palms would be to call it ‘dreamy house,’ I’d say.” Using picturesque photos of palm trees set in urban environments to characterize much of the label’s aesthetic and epitomize its raw, lush, and vaporous sound, Lost Palms took off with increasing popularity, delivering EPs such as Trudge’s When It Rains, DJ Boring’s Different Dates, and Anthony Fade’s Fading EP.
Three years in, Shall Not Fade shook the scene even further with its 3 Years of Service compilation, a stunning nine-track record with tracks from acts like Loods, Frits Wentink & DJ Boring, Mella Dee, Skream, and more. The three-year-anniversary of the label and its growing international popularity prompted its first gigs outside of Europe, taking SNF to Japan, Thailand, and Australia. “I booked that whole tour myself, which was pretty mad,” Williams says. “Those Asia gigs were extraordinary, and we have a great following in Australia, as well as Berlin, and then Bristol, obviously.”
When discussing parties, the conversation shifts back to the current crisis and uncertain future the UK events sector faces due to COVID-19 and his time working at Motion. “There’s no other way to really describe it. It’s all pretty fucked, isn’t it?” Williams says. “I still speak to the Motion people sometimes, and despite the situation, I think they’re going to come back strong. I really wanted to do a lot of events again, and I’ve got a real drive for it now, but to be honest with you, there was a time when I kind of fell out of love with it. It is stressful putting on parties, and it’s a weird kind of stress. It’s not like running a label or doing a release. I remember waking up in the night sometimes at 4:00 in the morning to check my computer to see if I’d sold any more tickets and stuff, you know? It really wasn’t good for my mental health, and it’s definitely something I struggled with.”
It was just after Shall Not Fade’s 30-day international tour in 2018 that, despite its success, Williams admits he began to feel weary and uncertain about the future of his label and career choice. In 2019, after being enamored by Thailand during the tour, he and his girlfriend decided to leave Bristol and move to Bangkok. “In all honesty, and I haven’t said this anywhere, but I kind of just fell out of love with the label and with music in general, really,” Williams says. “It’s hard to explain, really. It was a weird time for us both, but, I don’t know, I just… lost the love for it.”
After buying a one-way ticket, they planned to start fresh in Southeast Asia with the hopes of finding jobs as English teachers. Williams was still running the label remotely, releasing records like KETTAMA’s Eastside Avenue EP, Harrison BDP’s Yearning For Yesterday EP, and another potent anniversary showing with their 4 Years Of Service compilation. After almost a year in Southeast Asia, the pair decided it was high time to return to the UK and opt for a stint in London before returning home.
“I’m now happier being back in Bristol, but I feel that London was a really big stepping stone from that period to where both the label and my mentality are now,” Williams says. “It gave me the drive again to really pump the label, and I just found that love again. I’ve never been so excited or motivated, and I feel blessed and happy every day that I’m able to do this as a job. Before, I just didn’t really feel like that.”
Wasting no time to move the label into 2020 with a refreshed mindset and a yearning to bring new artists into the fold, Williams managed to turn the worst year the dance music scene has ever endured into Shall Not Fade’s most successful year to date. He introduced three new sub-labels to the SNF family, the first being Shall Not Fade Basement Tracks — an IDM meets techno imprint with a heavier, broken-beat sound with releases from Ejeca and Otik, newcomers Ron Elliot and Kessler, and Shadow Child, whose Bak 2 Skool EP is coming soon.
Then there’s Time Is Now Records, a bass-driven label specializing in low-end heavy retro UK Garage experimentation, and the thick Bristolian sounds that first inspired Williams’ journey beyond rock. Finally, Season Series is an artful, colored vinyl imprint featuring an array of waxy hues that change with the seasons. Sitting alongside two white labels — Shall Not Fade White and the forthcoming Time Is Now White — Williams’ love of vinyl does not go unnoticed.
Crafting the album art and visual identity for each of his imprints is “a massive part of the label,” Williams says. To that end, James Lacey, AKA Pointless Illustrations, can be thanked. “The first release he ever did was the Four Years Of Service record. It’s my favorite artwork to date,” Williams says. “He completely got the vibe and nailed the Shakespearean stuff with this gothic, angels, myths, and legends look. I literally have full trust in him and have handed over complete creative control of everything visual.” With remarkable artwork that ranges from abstract and profound to fun and cartoonish, the label’s vinyl and merch offerings are quick to be snatched up.
Williams explains that handing over creative control is an essential part of Shall Not Fade’s output and strategy. He insists that he’s “not the visionary,” but rather “the person in this who makes the stuff happen,” giving his artists the time, trust, money, marketing skills, and other traits he has to offer while carrying out his job with full-blown confidence in their work. This paid off in spades last year, when Shall Not Fade and its sub-labels dropped a total of 61 releases. “I thought 2019 was a good year, and that year ended with a total of 21,” Williams says, bewildered.
In addition to releasing its first collection of albums — LP1 and LP2 Ambient Dance from Polish house master Bartosz Kruczyński (AKA Earth Trax), along with the sexy and chilled Earth Tones album from Brooklyn duo Earth Tracks — the development of Shall Not Fade’s new sub-labels brought some of 2020’s best EPs. Standouts include the electrifying Frankfurt artist LUZ1E’s Ridin, the Danish dynamo Main Phase’s Never Let Go, UKG troublemaker Bakey’s Take it Further, Otik’s Zero-Sum Games, Tilman’s free and easy One For The Trouble, Subjoi’s ’90s rave reception Bias, Yosh’s One More Time, and more.
A handful of established veterans of the scene also joined the Shall Not Fade roster this year, including DJ/producers like Byron The Aquarius, Laurence Guy, and Jacques Renault. “It’s really nice to work with some of those names who you’ve kind of dreamt of working with while you’re also bringing through new artists, which has always been the foundation of the label,” Williams says. “It’s great seeing those bigger names coming forward and wanting to work with us simply based on what we’ve done in the past with these up-and-coming artists, you know? It’s not like we have a big artist behind the label or there’s a company behind the label who are driving it financially.”
Moving into 2021, Williams exclaims that he’s feeling “positive,” “lucky,” “happy,” and “more confident than ever” in both what he’s doing and where Shall Not Fade is heading. As we discuss holiday plans, rest seems a far way off for Williams as he explains to us that he’s got “15 releases arriving within the space of 15 days.” He goes on to announce that another new sub-label, titled Shall Not Fade Classic Cuts, will come into play in the new year, along with compelling new releases from the likes of Felipe Gordon, dj poolboy, Interplanetary Criminal, Byron The Aquarius, and much more. With his mum’s garage now a distant memory, and endless possibilities on the horizon, it seems Shall Not Fade is one imprint destined to live up to its name.